They Don’t Listen
By Morgane Jacobs

The posters crafted by stone faced politicians could not have been more deceiving as he lay in the trench dug by the bare hands of his pale comrades whose ghosts wept and cried, fetters latching onto their frail feet, the man felt his chest convulse. Letting out a frail cough he raised his hands to his heart as he thought back at what had just happened just hours ago.

“Gas! Gas!” A voice strains, helpless boys scramble around, hands weakly fumbling for their masks. The man blinks for a few moments, his mind foggy.

In the distance he sees a scaled mustard snake, venomous fangs threatening and glinting in contrast with the darkness that envelops the impure creature. Mockingly, the gas oozes forwards like pus from an infected wound.

The man reaches for a mask, his fingers burning and cramping up from his damp gloves that had been torn and worked to the point where they had no use but to serve as a reminder of the times he’d scraped his hands trying to keep himself warm in the toxic wasteland  that he’d been living in for over a year.

“Grab your masks !” The commander roars, yet the only response is the beetle like scurrying of the soldiers as they search for their masks.

The surface of the trench is soaked, weak remains of human flesh lay haphazardly in the sweat and mud. The man tries to hold his breath for as long as possible, lungs burning with the need for air. He feels himself swimming in a pool of hot acid, its fiery tongue invading his senses in a brutal gulp. Eyes and nose burning, tongue blistering as he gasps like a new born infant.

He begins to choke and cough, each sudden breath burning his insides and tearing  apart his lungs, his vision darkens and he can no longer see the sun, instead he can dimly see the cold creature which coiled around the necks of his comrades and latched its sharp fangs into their throats, their lives flowing out of them as more poison barrelled in.

The soldier beside him pulls out a cross, meekly gripping it towards his heart in the hopes that somebody would listen, that somebody would end his pain or bring him peace, however, it is too late for his teary yet once lively eyes roll back and takes his last breath before collapsing.

Stunned, the man who had been watching him lets his gaze lower, the panic buzzing through his veins only increasing.

A mask! He sees a mask beside the now dead man, and feeling his heart swell and newfound hope and energy burst throughout his body he leaps towards it, scraping his knees open in the process. As his sweaty palms shake and quiver like half plucked leaves in the wind, he places it on his head and breathes in a warm breath of relief, allowing himself a slight pause before turning to help the others around him. Yet as he turns, he sees they are all gone.

Now as he waited in the sorrowful trench, the man let out a tear as those who had promised him fame and glory and left him broken and alone in the glory no-man’s land.

Judge Charlie Durante’s Comments:

“This story is an indictment of the politicians who promised a short war and little suffering.  A soldier is caught in the nightmare world of trench warfare so typical of the First World War during a gas attack.  Panic soon spreads and the soldiers scramble in a clumsy attempt to put on their masks.  The writing describing the gas is colourful and even poetic.  There is a string of wonderful visual metaphors and similes: the ‘scaled mustard snake’ for the cloudy mass of gas; the gas oozing ‘like pus from an infected wound’; the men scattering like frightened beetles; the palms quivering ‘like half plucked leaves.’  In despair for his life, a poor Tommy grips a cross, religion now offering the only hope.  The soldier succumbs but his mask saves the life of the main protagonist.  This story is reminiscent of some of Wilfred Owen’s poems, especially ‘Dulce et Decorum est,’ which also describes a gas attack and exposes the lies behind the pro-war propaganda. An exciting piece of work, action-packed and with a sobering message.”


Airplane Mode
By Anna Sanguinetti

I never hated planes like my friend Hazel, but I did not love them either. It was my first time going on a plane without my parents and my friends Hazel and Liam were accompanying me on the trip. We had planned to go to Ibiza together for a festival and even though we had to convince our parents in the long run, they let us go.

It was five in the morning and our flight was not departing until seven o’clock. Hazel wanted to come early so we didn’t miss our flight, so we sat down for two hours and waited to check in. When our plane finally arrived, an hour late, we got on and looked at where we were sitting, and I realised I was not sitting with Hazel or Liam. Liam tried to calm me down while Hazel tried to get me a seat next to them but the flight assistance said nothing could be done. I lied to them and said I was fine and we were not even far away from each other. They gave me a sorry smile and went to their seats.

As soon as I sat down I began to read a book to distract myself. Soon an old man sat down next to me. He had enormous hairy arms and colossal feet, he was also bald and had a huge nose. When he sat next to me half of his belly covered my arms which were on the arm rest and he smelt horrible. After a while, he got a packet of biscuits and began to scoff them down, his chewing was so loud a baby a few rows ahead of us began to cry. At this point I knew it was going to be an extremely long flight.

After some time, the plane took off and the man next to me had already finished two packets of biscuits and a packet of crisps. An extra-large packet of crisps. I head Hazel and Liam laughing behind me and I knew I was missing out on a lot. So I tried to ignore them and put my headphones on, watched a film and tried to enjoy the rest of the long flight.

During the end of the film I felt something like a bowling ball hit my shoulder. I then caught on that the man had fallen asleep on my shoulder, and was drooling, on my shoulder! I tried to move to wake him, but nothing worked. Suddenly I had the urge to go to the toilet. I did not know what else could have gone wrong. Thankfully there was turbulence and the man woke up with a startle, which scared me and the lady in front of us. The man looked at me, then at my arm, which was full of his drool. I smiled trying to hold back my anger. He gave me a sorry smile back and got his handkerchief and started to clean off his drool, but instead he got chocolate all over my top from the biscuits he ate earlier. He looked back up at me and said he will; buy me another top when we got to Ibiza. I just smiled and looked away. I still had to go to the toilet.

A few hours had passed and I was itching to get off the flight. The man had already fallen asleep again, eaten two more extra-large packets of crisps and had clipped his toenails. His disgusting, long toenails. I asked him if he could cut them somewhere else because some of his nails had hit my face, he apologised and put his shoes back on. From the corner of my eye, I saw him fidget with something in his bag, he then pulled out his headphones which were all tangled. He started to pull them apart and managed to hit me, three times in the face and a few times on the shoulder. I angrily took the headphones off him and helped to detangle them which took me a while. He thanked me and put them on.

I started to regret detangling the headphones for him. While he was watching the movie he had random bursts of laughter and food was spat out of his mouth as he was having another packet of crisps. I got up and went to the bathroom, which stank and was very small, and I stayed in there for the ret of the flight, which was another forty minutes. A few people knocked on the door but I ignored them as I was trying to do anything to avoid sitting next to the man again. When I heard the pilot say we were landing, I got out of the toilet and sat back down. The man asked where I had gone and I said I had gone to the toilet and to see my friends. He nodded and looked forward.

When we started to hit the ground the plane started to shake and the man held onto my arm. His hands were greasy and full of crisps, At last, the plane hit the ground and he let go of my hand. I wiped away the crisps from my top and took a deep breath.

I met Hazel and Liam afterwards as we exited the plane and explained what had happened as they laughed. I honestly did not find it funny. At All! It was a horrific experience, and I never want to sit by myself again. We got to the luggage reclaim and stood there for a few minutes. Hazel’s and Liam’s bag arrived but mine did not. So I stood there a little longer, but still nothing. We asked a man and had him check it out for us. A few moments later he, apologetically said that some suitcases were missing. What else could go wrong? I felt someone behind me. “Would you like to share a taxi?” I heard as I turned around to the face the smelly passenger who sat beside me throughout the flight.

Judge Charlie Durante’s comments:

“The Covid-19 pandemic has dealt a deadly blow to the aviation industry.  Anna’s story would not help in a campaign to lure passengers back to travelling by air!  It is a humorous, albeit exaggerated account, of what happens when you end up sitting beside a passenger who gobbles crisps and biscuits almost incessantly, falls asleep on your shoulder and lets his drool dribble down your top, clips his toenails (is that allowed during flights?), and guffaws, spitting his food when watching an in-flight movie.  The greedy man is inconsiderate and unaware of the discomfort he is causing the other person, but he is essentially good-natured and quite inoffensive.  There is a kind of muffled apology when he invites the passenger he has unwittingly tormented to share a taxi.  It’s always a relief to read a story with a dash of humour, especially during these dark days. Of course, the victim does not find the situation funny at all-it’s just annoying and unpleasant. But the reader smiles: she could have expressed her disappointment in a courteous, civil manner, but then we would not have had this very funny and well-crafted story. Well done, Anna.”


SJ's Tales from Abroad
By Liam Almeida

The Emperor of China dozed in his throne and abruptly woke up. His messenger has entered the room. “Your Highness, I am glad to inform you that the Sultan of Oman will be getting married and you have been invited to his wedding ceremony,” explained his messenger. “That is wonderful, I wish to deliver a gift as a wedding present,” yawned the Emperor as he crawled out of his throne. “I shall tell the jewellers to craft something worthy of a king’s possession,” said his messenger and with that, left to tell the craftsmen of their duties.

Kin’s father, SJ, came from humble beginnings. He and his brother, Chen, came from a very poor family. He lived in a rural area of China with his twin brother and his mother and father. They would make a good living by growing crops on their farm and selling them to merchants. One day their farm was raided by a group of Japanese pirates who were passing by and, since their farm was by the coast, they saw that as an opportunity. They robbed them of their money and burnt down their house, forcing them out of the area with nothing to live on. Miraculously, the two brothers survived and eventually after many jobs managed to become naval merchants. They became famous in the area for being excellent sailors and able to export anything and get it to its destination on time. They had made a comeback and their life was on the right track.

The Emperor’s ambassador trotted alongside the dockyard, holding a luxurious box. It had an inbuilt golden handle with a diamond edge, and it held something truly spectacular. He was dressed in the finest robes the Emperor could offer. He was in his fifties and had a wife with two children and he had a peaceful life. He didn’t know what he was about to embark on. He arrived at the Liang business hut. He knocked on the door and was greeted by SJ Liang, the owner of the exported business. “SJ Liang, the emperor has an extremely important message for you. You are known across the country for your excellent sailing skills. The Emperor cannot leave his country unattended so I, the ambassador will go to represent China. He also wishes to send him a marriage gift worthy of a king,” he said sliding open the box and there, in front of SJ’s eyes was a pure gold vase, worth more than his entire life’s fortune. “He needs you to deliver the box and I to Oman. You are the best person we can ask.” “I am honoured to be to be personally chosen by our Emperor. I shall prepare my crew and our ship as fast as I possibly can. When are we due to set sail?” asked SJ. “Two weeks today, don’t let him down,” threatened the ambassador. “I guarantee we will not,” promised SJ.

“Chen, we have a mission from the Emperor. We must deliver a gold vase to the Sultan of Oman!” shouted SJ. He was out of breath because he had darted all the way down to his brother’s house to tell him the news. “That is impossible, the Emperor has entrusted us with a golden vase?” said Chen in an astounded manner. “Yes, and we are due to set sail in two weeks from today,” explained SJ. “We should better call over the crew and begin rigging the boat, or we won’t get it done in time.

The glistering sun was shinning over the sparkling sea and SJ was full of pride as he shook hands with the ambassador. He knew this was the most important moment of his life. “Father, we are ready, we have completely rigged!” called Kin from the deck. Kin was SJ’s son and was destined to follow his father’s footsteps. He looked very like his father and was ecstatic, knowing that he was serving the Emperor at such a young age. The ambassador boarded and took a seat at the bridge of the junk. The vase was in his possession at all times. They hoisted the sail and set off into the sunrise.

They had been at sea for three weeks. The ambassador was sea sick and constantly throwing up. He was having a horrific time but he knew he had to represent his country. So far SJ had been delighted that they had excellent weather but to his horror he had woken up early and the sky was beautiful and red. “Chen, Chen! There is a red sky!” he exclaimed, sounding very worried. “Don’t worry. Even if we are hit by a typhoon, we will get there. We have dealt with many before,” replied Chen. “I fear that luck may not be on our side this time, brother.” “What on earth are you doing up so early,” moaned the ambassador. “I may fear we will be hit by a typhoon,” explained SJ. “How on earth do you know that?” questioned the ambassador. “Red sky at night, sailors delight, red sky at dawn, sailors mourn. This is an old saying. If we see a red sky in the morning, that foretells that there could be a typhoon,” he said. “I have never sailed before but how dangerous are typhoons,” questioned the ambassador. “They can devastate the biggest of ships, sending crashing waves over their heads,” SJ said worriedly.

Over a period of a week, the seas became rougher and the waves taller. SJ had to use the jib to sail because the force of the wind was too powerful for two sails to handle. They needed the extra support that the jib offered. The spray of salt water drenched SJ as he peered over the boat. Definitely, a typhoon was being conjured up. They were passing small oriental islands. “Pull the main sheet and tack to the left,” ordered SJ. “We shall dock on that island tonight to evade the typhoon.” They began the two-hour journey towards the island. SJ prayed but something in his gut told him that they were going to face the wrath of the typhoon. One hour in and they knew it the full force of the storm hit them. “Tighten the main sheet, we can get through this,” screamed SJ, over the sound of the crashing waves and heavy rain. Whilst the crew were risking their lives outside on the main deck, the ambassador was quivering away in the cabin, curled up into a ball and praying for his life.

They seemed to be holding on but the typhoon was progressingly getting worse and boat crushing waves were beginning to form. “We are not going to last much longer,” called out SJ. All of a sudden, a lightning bolt struck the mast which blasted it into oblivion. The boat was useless, they couldn’t move. SJ’s heart rate rose dramatically. He could hear his son screaming for help as he watched the mast crash through the centre of the hull.  He and his crew plunged into the water. The junk was engulfed in water and SJ swallowed mouthfuls of water. his lungs were bursting for air and he felt as if the end was near. Suddenly, he remembered the gift, and swam towards the sinking cabin. Pieces of wood from the wreckage were constantly hitting him and the waves were flipping him over and over. Somehow he managed to make it inside. He freed the box from the dead ambassador’s grasp. Once the box was secured and the Emperor’s gift was safe, he instantly went to save his son. He grabbed Kin and Chen who were both unconscious and dragged them onto a large piece of floating wood. After that the world went black.

SJ felt water splashing across his face as he awoke. He quickly realised that he was on the shore of some island, and quickly arose, checking his surroundings, Kin and Chen were sprawled across the sand. He grasped the box in his hands. Thankfully, the vase was intact. Their journey for the emperor was not over, the next mission, finding their way to Oman. The story on how they made their way to Oman is another tale for another day.  

Judge Charlie Durante’s comments:

“This story seems to come from an old logbook kept by an intrepid sea-dog who has sailed the China seas.  An adventure story, it includes all the details which make adventure stories exciting and credible, in spite of the huge obstacles which have to be overcome.  A family of naval merchants, after suffering major setbacks, including a devastating raid by Japanese pirates, are entrusted with the mission of a lifetime: delivering a precious golden vase, a wedding present from the Emperor of China to the Sultan of Oman. Predictably, they set sail with high expectations, though the Chinese ambassador is sick and lacks sea legs.  A red sky at dawn heralds the inevitable storm, fierce winds and a looming typhoon.  The sailors expertly tackle the unleashed elements, but it is all too much for the ship and it capsizes.  However, SJ, the protagonist, manages to retrieve the golden vase and then rescue his brother and son.  They are washed ashore alive, but with the rest of the journey to Oman unrealised.  This story has a strong oriental flavour.  It conjures up the world of imperial China, fabulously rich treasure, a finicky ambassador and savage seas.  Some may find it too long, but the narrative engages the reader right up to the end.”